Monday, 20 February 2017

On a train through the Czech Republic

This coming summer will mark a decade since my first trip to the Czech Republic and I will also celebrate four years of calling this country home. When I was writing my first support letter, writing about what God had called me to and inviting people to partner in His work, I remember going through all my photos of the five times I’d been in Czech up until that point. I also went through all the photos I’d been tagged in on Facebook by teammates, hoping to find photos that communicated the need for and the beauty of the ministry I’d be joining.

And do you know what I found? So many photos of me sleeping, mostly on trains or buses, taken by teammates that I’d no doubt snapped sleeping earlier. None of those photos made the cut to go in the support letter, and I’m not going to post any of them here.

But I have a lot of memories of those summer trains – and they’re mostly fond. Running for trains to take us to short term team training, and crossing the country to travel to the camp location. And the sticky summer heat, the gentle rocking of the train, and the squeaks and squeals as it came to a stop at another unpronounceable station.

I don’t often find myself on a train now that I live here, as it is usually more convenient to travel by car, but I’m on one today. I’m heading across the country to Prague, a journey that takes four hours from the little town I call home. And I could be working or reading but I can’t stop staring out the window.

It helps that, although we’ve had a couple of days where the temperature has been above zero, most of the countryside is still snowy. And when I say that it looks like Narnia part of the movie was filmed here, so you can imagine. There are areas of beautiful tall trees, surrounded with snow.

There are long stretches where we’re going fast, 159km/hour according to the sign at the end of the carriage, and buzzing through the landscape that appears rather monochrome with the white snow, black trees, and grey sky. Every so often another train passes us.

We frequently pass little towns and villages, where there is smoke coming out of chimneys and people going about their days. Often the tallest building in those places is the church building and I wonder if it’s still being used, how many people gather there, and what the neighbours think about the building beside them.

Along the way we’ve also passed through bigger cities. This is a fast train so we stopped in only a couple of them to pick up new people. The cities are often announced by the factories we pass on the way in, and the freight trains ready to transport materials.

When we’re out in the countryside it is quieter and I spotted some deer in the fields. There are also little chatas, little huts, by rivers or with little gardens, that are mostly used in the summer months.

When we pass through train stations I can now pronounce their names, usually pretty well, and some of them are even familiar places where I have been or have friends. And at the train station after I bought my ticket I picked up a food magazine to read on the journey. The language that was once amusing and beyond all understanding now also feels familiar as I work my way towards fluency.

I am so thankful for this little country that I get to call home. I’m thankful for all the little ways it feels familiar and I am praying that this fortnight, as I attend a Czech intensive, that I grow in my ability to communicate with people here. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Show off!

taken in the wilderness in Israel, March 2016

"God, would you just show off?" 

This has been one of my recent repeated prayers. It usually follows a request for him to show up. 

Now, I know God is omnipresent and is with me wherever I go - in fact, the Holy Spirit lives in me! It is such a crazy, beautiful truth. But I still find myself asking him to show up, and maybe that says more about my eyes not always seeing him, or taking the time to look where he is moving. 

So I ask God to show up when I go to youth group - that he'll help me understand the Czech, and guide me in building and deepening relationships. And I ask him to show up when I go to my gym or chat with my neighbours, that I'll have the opportunity to be a light for him. And it's beautiful to see the ways he answers those prayers - and the asking makes me a whole lot easier to see the answers.

And, recently, I've been asking him to show off. To answer prayers and resolve situations in a way that only he can - because there are some situations that only he can resolve. So I'm asking him to come in a mighty way, and show off, and do things only he can do - and in a way that means he gets all the glory. 

I love the verse in Isaiah 42 that says:
And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.
It's incredible to see God doing what only he can do - turning darkness into light, making rough places level. He's a good, good father, who gives good gifts. And I know that sometimes those gifts are resolution, or him redeeming things I thought were irredeemable. And sometimes those gifts are hope and peace in him and him alone. 

So, I'm asking God to show up and show off this week. And I'm excited to see what he's going to do! 

Monday, 16 January 2017


In the last couple of weeks we’ve had a lot of snow here, the first proper snow of the winter, and a lot more than I captured in the photo of our town hall above. Aside from all fears I have about driving in it, it is beautiful. It’s been a few inches deep and powdery. And it just seems to muffle the world a little. It’s also been pretty cold for a few weeks - for over a week it didn’t get above zero degrees, and there were days when the temperature was below minus fifteen. I experienced the coldest temperatures since I moved here, and learnt that when you walk to youth group in minus twenty your headphone cord freezes. 

This weather means that it takes a little longer to get somewhere. And you need to uncover your car in the morning. It makes everything look beautiful, even if sometimes you want to look out at it, rather than being in it. 

On the first Tuesday morning in January we started our work year at a “Super Good Morning” meeting, meaning that those who serve with JV in Czech and those who live in Czech and serve with JV internationally all met together. We met in our conference centre pictured above - the snow definitely made it look pretty, although it meant we had to park at the bottom of the hill and walk up!

The theme of our time was shalom, the peace God gives us. It was so good to gather together, surrounded by snowy trees and mountains, and seek God together. Although I’ve now taken down my Christmas decorations around my flat, I do not want to forget that the baby who came was called the Prince of Peace. 

During our worship time Bara painted this incredible picture of what she sees peace as - that although there might be chaos around us, and even sometimes within us, we can know peace.

The devotional book I’m using this year has me looking at the Greek of a different verse each day and January 1st looked at the first part of Colossians 3:15 - “let the peace of God rule in your hearts”. The word rule was used for referees or umpires in ancient times. So the verse could be translated as

Let the peace of God be the referee of your hearts.

Let the peace of God govern your hearts.

As I enter 2017 I want that to be true of this whole year. There are some things I am so excited about this year, and some things that I am worried about, and I’m sure there is a lot I have no idea about that is on the horizon. But God is faithful and good, and I want His peace to be the referee of my heart, so that I don’t make decisions out of anxiety or fear, but out of His character and goodness.  

Saturday, 31 December 2016


These nine photos are my most liked photos from 2016 on instagram. And they do capture a decent portion of my life - photos of interns, camp in Croatia, dear friends, travels for work or rest, and craftiness.

There are four countries represented in these photos (Czech, Poland, Slovakia and Croatia) - but 2016 actually saw me visit fifteen countries. Those fifteen are, in order, Czech, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Israel, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Croatian, Germany, Italy, France, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. I live in one of those countries, am from a second, and of the thirteen remaining all but two were on ministry trips!

There's also a lot about this year that the "best nine" don't capture. One of the highlights of my year was definitely the study tour of Israel I did. And, although it can sometimes be hard to be away from home so much, I adore the variety of the travel I do in my ministry - from conferences in Latvia and Estonia, to camps in Germany and Croatia, it has been an incredible year of seeing up close what God is doing in these nations.

I continue to be in awe of the wonderful people in my life, and I am so grateful for the hours spent with dear friends and family. Whether those hours are spent over meals or late night cups of tea, or through emails and FaceTime. 

I also spent a lot of the year reading - I finished 29 books, and started or am a little way through a few more. The books I finished, averaged over the year, add up to 25 pages a day which feels pretty good! I did finish fewer books than last year but that is largely because I decided to read through the Bible this year and it has been a lot of my reading. I'm not quite finished it - I hope to be done by the end of February, but it has been incredible!

I'm looking at my list of resolutions for 2016 as I write this and I definitely didn't accomplish all that I listed on the paper. But there has been a lot of growth. A year ago, when I sat down to think about the resolutions I thought about who I wanted to be when I'm 90 and wrote out goals that would allow me to grow closer to that. And as I wrote each goal I attached the "why" of it, because I needed to be reminded of the purpose.

I want to be an old woman who sparkles with joy because of her Saviour - and so I set out to read through the entire Bible, I listed things I'm thankful for each night (and wrote out well over one thousand in a year), and I used some great tools to help my prayer life. I am more in love with Jesus now than I was at the beginning of this year, and that is such grace from God.

There were some things that happened this year that I really didn't expect - good and bad, and some things that I had hoped would happen that didn't. But through it all God was ever faithful, and oh so good. And, whatever 2017 holds, I am grateful that that will continue to be true! 

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

the stories things tell

There are only a couple of things in life I collect. I have enough books to have started my third bookshelf. I have one Starbucks' mug for each place I've lived. I'm trying to get magnets of the JV countries I visit - but that one proves quite hard when I'm not necessarily in touristy, sells magnets, kind of places when I travel for work.

But as I pulled out my Christmas decorations I realised I may be collecting nativities. And the five I own tell some interesting stories. 

This is the first one I bought. It was a hot, sunny day and a strange one to be buying a magnetic nativity scene. But it was summer 2007, I was in Prague having done my very first English camp, and I was wandering around the market looking for gifts and something for myself. It was my first time in the Czech Republic and, had you asked me, I wouldn't have been able to say with certainty that I'd come back again, let alone live here.

And know that it vaguely bothers me that the wise men face east so they cannot be making some grand entrance from the geographically correct direction.

The next set I bought came a couple of years later - maybe in 2008 or 2009 when I lived in Cardiff. I bought this little set (that also has wise men, a shepherd, a donkey and camel) in Paperchase in the Welsh capital when I was at university there. And now the cast of the Christmas story find themselves dotted around my Christmas tree.

This set is Northern Irish and started off with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. The shepherds were added the next year. The characters are made out of clay and made by my very talented best friend, given as Christmas presents a few years ago.

I found this Russian doll nativity set in the John Lewis in Heathrow airport last year when I was on home assignment. It's fun and bright and buying it at the airport meant I didn't pay tax on it. The wise men doll actually has three faces as you rotate it round. I should probably have the wise men standing on the other side of the dresser as that would actually have them coming in from the east (as Poland is just a few hundred metres to the left of this photo).

This one is the most recent addition to the collection. It's made from olive wood and was bought in Nazareth when I was in Israel earlier this year. 

Five different nativity sets, from five different countries, over the last nine years. It's fun to pull them out of the box and decide where and how to display them each year. And they tell beautiful tales of God's faithfulness - in the places I've lived, the relationships I have, and the stories I've gathered.

And they allow me to enter the greatest story. The story that I've heard since before I can remember. The story in which five-year-old me played Mary. The story that each year finds me older and different, and ever in need of it. The story that ever works its way deeper into my bones. 

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Snapshots of a Week

It has been a good, and a full, week and I thought it would be fun to post some photos so you can see some snapshots of what I've been up to.

Last Saturday a friend asked me to pick them up from the airport and I decided to make a day of it. I didn't need to be at the airport until 5.30pm so I enjoyed a whole day in Krakow - I explored the Christmas markets, and wandered around the city and castle, doing some Christmas shopping and reading. I loved hearing different English-speaking accents throughout the city - including at least one that was distinctly Northern Irish. I'm thankful that I can have a sabbath day enjoying a city that is just a couple of hours driving away.

On Sunday I had church in the morning and then a concert in the afternoon - the above picture shows us ready for the concert to start. Some of my co-workers launched an outreach event where people come together and form a choir for a couple of months and finish with a Christmas concert! I think this was the fourth year of it and it has become a big deal - there were three concerts this year, and tickets sold out quickly. Two of my co-workers were interviewed on a Czech morning TV show, and the livestream of the concert has been watched by over 6000 people. 

The choir was made up of a lot of non-Christians and the gospel was clearly communicated throughout their practices and at each concert so many people heard the gospel and were invited to respond. There is even an article about the event each year in a local newspaper and in reporting the event it says that there was a message during the concert and clearly outlines what that message was! 

It was a really fun performance and the audience are asked to singalong with different songs. My favourite performance was, of course, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, by U2. 

Most of my working week was spent on our new camps website! This is an internal website that will serve our staff, interns, short term teams, and local church teams. On Monday I recorded the tutorials to help our staff learn how to use it and made it live! It's been a lot of work but it's so fun to see it out there. I really believe this will lead to increased fruit as everything gets funnelled through one place - increasing our team's capacity and, prayerfully, as teams come better prepared for camp it will help them communicate the gospel even more clearly to even more students. 

After so much sitting and a big project released I needed to celebrate - and I did so by making mince pies. It's funny what you realise are things specific to only your country when you move abroad and mince pies are one those things. Thankfully I was able to get a jar of the filling at Marks and Spencers and the mince pies were enjoyed at our team meeting on Tuesday morning.

Tuesdays are always full days of meetings - we had our international team meeting, in which we studied Acts. Next up was our S-Team meeting, with those of us serving the special ministries of JV. In the afternoon I had a meeting with our communication's team to talk about the resources and materials they are creating for camps this year. 

After all that I sat down to read through the camp talks for next year. This was my first time reading them and the people who wrote them did an incredible job introducing young people to Jesus and His gospel. In a week that was full of meetings, releasing the website, discovering bugs and getting them fixed, it was so good to sit and be reminded. And not just reminded of the gospel that changed my life - but reminded why I care about websites and resources, because it's all about Him and young people hearing this good, good news.

On Tuesday nights we have our missionary women's bible study and I am so grateful for this community! We just finished Beth Moore's Believing God study - I think it took us over seven months to do the ten week study but it was so good, and so worth the work. 

While I was there I realised what I'd scrawled on my hand earlier that day. I was on the phone with my mechanic asking when I could bring my car in (just for a service, thankfully). We agreed on Monday (or pondělí in Czech) and I'd written that on my hand. It's such a small thing but I was so thankful that I realised hours later that my brain had stayed in Czech. It didn't translate every single word and thought, and I made a note to myself in Czech. 

An Englishman, Scotsman, Welshman and NorthernIrishwoman were in a meeting, not a joke, on Thursday. We were later joined by a couple of others. This was an exciting meeting, discussing JVUK getting charity status and all that that means.

On Fridays this month my little town has little Christmas markets and it was fun to explore them as I crossed the square running errands.

On Friday evening the Yormans and I celebrated Christmas! I introduced the Yorman clan to crackers (who knew this was a UK/Ireland thing?!) - which was quite the challenge as they're technically classed as fireworks so there are all kinds of rules about flying with them. When I was back in NI in November for just a couple of days I had room to bring back a full, unopened, box of crackers (obeying the law of how to fly with them). 

And we blended cultures as we made gingerbread houses and decorated them with a lot of icing.

And I gave the boys their Christmas gift - the Dobble or Spot It game with Star Wars. I definitively lost because my spaceship/character knowledge leaves a lot to be desired but it was a lot of fun!

Saturday was a day of errands and trying to restore some order/cleanliness to my little flat. It was also our youth group Christmas party! It was 80s themed but I'll spare you any selfies (you can see my turned up jeans and fluorescent shoes if you look closely). 

At the end of the programme we were each given this wafer and went around to different people, giving them Christmas/new year wishes/blessings. When each person had spoken you offered your wafer to the other person who broke a piece off, and you found someone new. It was a beautiful thing to do, and so good to speak words of God's blessing over one another and the next year. And it was a fun blend of cultures - I communicated in Czech and English, depending on who I was speaking to, and the wafers have Polish on them.

And today was church - we had a testimony from the man in the photo. And our sermon was on how Jesus didn't just come to be a cute little baby who brings us gifts at Christmas (baby Jesus is the deliverer of Christmas presents in Czech). Our sermon was on Revelation 12 and how Jesus ultimately came to defeat evil. In a week that has felt so dominated by pictures of war, this was a good and timely reminder.

On Sunday afternoon this was my view as we had small group. Cups of tea and plates Christmas cukrovi (amazing Christmas biscuits/cookies), and time spent talking with dear girls about God's Word and how we can grow closer to Him. 

So there are the snapshots of my week. I am so thankful for the life I've been called to live and the good works God has prepared for me. I'm thankful for the full weeks and the crazy blends of cultures and languages - and that it's all about Him and the beautiful gospel. 

Monday, 21 November 2016

Edge Sports {video}

Josiah Venture - EDGE Sports Ministry from Josiah Venture on Vimeo.

I first posted about Edge over three years ago, right when it was beginning. Today between three and four hundred young people are involved with Edge! They are meeting regularly to practice their sport (mainly football or floorball) and play in tournaments against other teams. And these teams are all based in local churches, with the goal of them being half believers and half unbelievers. As young people meet to practice or play they are hearing the gospel and how the truth of God's word can and should change their lives.

I hope you enjoy seeing glimpses of this ministry in the video above - and would you join me in praying that God does amazing things as Edge Sports continues to grow?